Throughout 2020, we will be highlighting the Queen Silvia Nursing Awards partners that bring the scholarship to life in their respective regions.

Currently in its 6th year, The Queen Silvia Nursing Award motivates nursing students in Germany, Finland, Poland, and Sweden to contribute to the quality of life and care of the elderly and people living with a dementia diagnosis. This program is made possible by the dedication and commitment of partners with a firm focus on the growth of nursing talent and nursing opportunities.

In this article, we speak with Hugo och Maria Winbergs stiftelse’s Executive Manager, Annika von Schantz, about operating an elderly and dementia care facility in Finland. Winbergs is a non-profit foundation established in 1956 that provides accommodation, service, and care to elderly Swedish-speaking Finns in Espoo, Finland. She explores the deeply human and professional rewards of aged care and what it takes to keep it thriving to address Finland’s rapidly aging population.

Annika, I understand that you have quite an extensive background in the Finnish healthcare system. Could you tell us a little bit about your journey to Winbergs?

My background is as a specialist nurse, with a focus on transplants. On top of that, I have a master’s in healthcare administration and have worked many years as a ward manager in Finland’s largest hospital, Helsingfors Universitetssjukhus. It was very exciting being a part of that learning environment with so many challenges.

Over the years, I’ve been a member of the council Centralförbundet för De Gamlas väl rf. They are very engaged in lifting elderly health and social challenges to the surface in Finland. While I was working in a busy hospital environment, I really set aside time to learn about dementia and geriatrics. When the Executive Manager’s role at Winbergs became available, it was very clear to me that I needed to go for it and work in this area of care.

That is a pretty big change of environments! Was it difficult to adapt?

Not at all. When I saw the ad for this role, I knew that this was exactly what I wanted. There were so many elements in place that made it a great fit. I have the background in healthcare and nursing, I am passionate about elderly and dementia care, and Winbergs is also a place where I could work in my native language, as a Swedish-speaking Finn. I would finally have an opportunity to effectively lift and act upon the rights for dignified care for patients of advanced age. All these elements made this a great move.

At Winbergs we see the entire lifespan as beautiful – from the beginning to the very end… We must work together to ensure that life’s beautiful moments aren’t limited to the beginning or mid-way through our journeys. There are many glorious moments to look forward to, even up until the very end.

Annika von Schantz, Executive Manager, Hugo och Maria Winbergs stiftelse

Do you see a difference in the service that is provided by nursing professionals who are in primary care versus nursing specialists?

When you are met by Finnish nurses or practical nurses, you will get care and service that is world-class. I believe that our nurses throughout Finland are very strong and well-trained.

But I believe we can make a change in our primary care service by securing some fundaments. I believe continuity is very important. Every patient has the right to see and receive advice from the same team of nurses and doctors time and again. Alongside this is the premise that there should not be any interruption to care plans, and this is particularly susceptible to personnel changes. These two elements go together. Finally, a strong centralization of knowledge is critical to carry through with care plans that might be very complex with the involvement of multiple teams and specialists.

These components are particularly important within elderly care. The elderly community needs advocates that can provide the right support and help, and this isn’t always the case within any care apparatus. They deserve to be treated with the same level of respect and dignity regardless of their age or diagnosis. Our societies have been very active in advocating for the rights of children and listening to their voices. But this hasn’t reached senior rights just yet. We need to take our time and allow the elderly in our communities to communicate their wishes and requirements. Ideally, in the future, there will be more professionals with a geriatric profile in all levels of care to make this a reality – from clinics to hospitals; primary care to specialists.

All of these things have to work in tandem to help the elderly and people with dementia get the quality of care and support that they deserve. These are individuals with their own stories, histories, preferences, and characteristics. They aren’t just a case number or a diagnosis, and all of us – particularly in care – need to look beyond the stigma of aging to provide the care they deserve.

Tell us a little more about the team at Winbergs.

Our senior home Tunaberg has 66 senior apartments, each with two or three rooms. The senior residents are between 73-103 years of age at present, and they lead active lives in a beautiful environment. These seniors have the freedom to choose between social activities, solitude, and tailor-made care and service. Daily activities, such as dining together, offer social interaction for the residents.

At Tunaberg, we like to think of ourselves as guests who are in the homes of our senior residents rather than the other way around.

We have two facilities in Espoo, Finland. Our nursing home Tunaro offers 21 safe and secure homes for seniors with 24/7 care. It also has a dementia focus incorporated into the organization. A lot of the seniors also display some cognitive impairment, so it is important that our teams are ready to provide additional support as their symptoms change.

Tunaberg seniorhem, Hugo och Maria Winbergs stiftelse, Espoo, Finland
Photo credit: unknown

What is it like working as the Executive Manager at an elderly/dementia care home?

It is incredibly rewarding. At Winbergs we see the entire lifespan as beautiful – from the beginning to the very end. This is a message that we want to spread to Finnish society. We must work together to ensure that life’s beautiful moments aren’t limited to the beginning or mid-way through our journeys. There are many glorious moments to look forward to, even up until the very end.

While the seniors will always be of central concern to our care professionals, we always ensure that we have time with their families and friends as well. Because every senior who comes to stay with us is treated as an individual with his or her unique experiences, we need to capture that story. We must record the narrative, the life moments, and the background of every person who is coming to stay with us. We want to know where you come from, where you have been, any family or career that we can refer to. We are dedicated to capturing anything and everything that might make it possible for us to create even more beautiful moments to come.  This is essential if we want to do our jobs with the senior’s individual needs in mind.  

Source: Hugo och Maria Winbergs stiftelse
Photo credit: unknown

Working with the senior’s families is extremely important on another level as well. As dementia progresses, we provide continuous support to the families, ask them how they are feeling, how we can assist and find solutions that are tailored to their needs. Just as everyone has her own preference, each family member might have a different way of handling the gradual loss of their loved one with a dementia diagnosis. There is no standard way of addressing loss except to know that our entire organization is there to support anyone who might be struggling and help them through that journey.

Hugo and Maria Winbergs stiftelse has been around since 1956. What else is in store for you in the future?

We want to keep making Winbergs’ facilities a great place for Finland’s elderly Swedish-speaking Finns. It is important that the Swedish-speaking seniors feel that they can “return” to what they are most familiar with. There are some differences between the Finnish and Finnish-Swedish cultures, and we are sensitive to this. At Winbergs, we serve traditional dishes and celebrate Finnish-Swedish holidays as they are meant to be done. This is a place where we want our seniors to feel comfortable and familiar with a high level of social interaction, care standards and support on hand.

What message would you like to give nursing talent that would like to enter geriatric care?

Keep curious and keep learning! Have an open mind and remember that care occurs when two people meet and communicate with each other. Elderly and dementia care are an incredibly human-driven side of the care spectrum full of moments of dignity and meaning. As a care professional, you have a powerful opportunity to impact this interaction with your knowledge and enthusiasm.